During the 1980s America substantially strengthened the criminal justice system at the federal level. But ninety-five percent of crime falls within the jurisdiction of state and local governments. Florida has a particular problem. It has been the state with the highest violent crime rate for more than a decade.
The national crime rate in the 1990s is three times that of 1960. Florida’s violent crime rate (1,207 crimes per 100,000 population) and property crime rate (4,901 crimes per 100,000 population) exceeds all other states.
The single most important solution to Florida’s crime epidemic is to incarcerate chronic violent offenders more often and for longer periods. Having criminals serve their full sentence would save Florida money, time, and trouble. Yet, the average criminal serves only 29 percent of his or her sentence, due mostly to lack of prison space. Truth-in-sentencing would require an end to provisional release credits and an increase in average time served. Florida should consider legislation modeled after federal law to target violent habitual offenders and armed career criminals.
Juvenile offenders are the fastest growing element in the burgeoning crime rate. Approximately one tenth of juvenile offenses areviolent crimes. Juvenile corrections falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, not the law enforcement or adult corrections agencies. The Florida Legislature should consider reassigning this function.
Other reforms are also needed: trying chronic, violent juveniles as adults, considering juvenile offense records in adult sentencing, enforcing speedy trials, reforming habeas corpus procedures, coordinating social welfare programs with law enforcement, and using sophisticated electronic surveillance technology.